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At least 7 Market Basket employees fired, protesters say

At least seven Market Basket employees were fired today, including organizers of a protest that has targeted the grocery chain in recent days by workers pressing for the return of ousted president Arthur T. Demoulas.

Six of those fired received a letter that arrived by courier, according to the employees or their colleagues. In some cases, a delivery person waited curbside for workers to return home from weekend activities to deliver their packages with termination letters inside, as well as no trespassing orders and advice on how to apply for unemployment.

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Among those fired were Tom Gordon, a grocery supervisor with 39 years at the supermarket chain; buyers Jim Lacourse with 30 years and Joe Garon with 49 years; and Steve Paulenka, a facilities and operations supervisor, with 40 years. All three met with the Globe last week to go public with a campaign to reinstate Demoulas.

Also fired Sunday were Tom Trainor, a distribution supervisor with 41 years at the company, operations supervisor Joe Schmidt, and warehouse supervisor Dean Joyce.

Representatives for Demoulas Super Markets Inc., the parent company of Market Basket, did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

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Paulenka said he received his notice at about 6:30 p.m., when a courier arrived at his door.

He was matter of fact about the matter when reached by phone Sunday night, and said he will continue to push for Arthur T. Demoulas to return as head of the company.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to do something because you know it’s the right thing to do,” he said. He called Demoulas’ replacements as “hired guns” who “just don’t get” the close culture and loyalty of Market Basket employees.

Gordon said he was returning home from an outing with friends when a courier approached him as he pulled into his driveway and handed him his termination letter and a no trespassing order.

“It’s not the greatest feeling,” he said. “I’ve been there 39 years.”

Trainor said he’d been expecting his walking papers any day. “I knew I was putting my neck out there,” he said. “They don’t even bother to tell you to your face.”

But, he added, “I’m not done fighting.”

A copy of a one-sentence e-mail sent by new co-CEO Felicia Thornton to store directors announcing Joyce’s firing was posted to a “Save Market Basket” Facebook group employees have been using to coordinate their actions.

The company and employees have been engaged in a showdown since last week, when workers demanded the return of Demoulas, who was fired in late June by a board controlled by his cousin and chief rival, Arthur S. Demoulas. For decades the two have feuded over control of the company, which was started by their grandfather.

Elected officials have begun to weigh in on the feud. By Sunday evening, 29 had pledged to support a boycott of Market Basket.

“It’s been an incredible response,” said state Sen. Barry R. Finegold, an Andover Democrat, who began circulating the petition among legislators Saturday afternoon. “We haven’t really had anybody who’s said no so far.”

Most of the participating officials have stores in their districts, Finegold said.

He said many low-income residents of urban areas where the company has stores rely on its low prices. “So many people in these cities are living paycheck to paycheck, and if they can find fresh produce and lower price groceries, it makes a huge difference,” Finegold said.

Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley also released a statement Sunday calling the actions of protesting employees “inspiring.”

“They are putting their jobs on the line -- with little or no protection from reprisals from current management - to stand up for the simple principle that workers deserve to be treated with respect and their voices deserve to be heard,” Coakley’s statement said. “I hope the current management of Market Basket will respect these voices and that these employees will able to make their case without losing their jobs or their hard earned benefits.”

On Friday, more than 2,000 rallied outside Market Basket’s headquarters in Tewksbury to press their case for Arthur T. Demoulas’ reinstatement.

Joyce -- who has been with the company 34 years and met his wife there -- was one of about a dozen speakers at the event.

“I never took more sick calls in my life than today. I hope you’re all feeling better,” he said before pointing to the back of the crowd where his warehouse staff had gathered. “They are the warehouse guys, and without us nothing happens.”

The threat was not an idle one: In Chelsea on Sunday, there were clear signs that the company’s boardroom fight was spilling into the aisles of its stores.

Bright orange signs taped in the windows and doors of the town’s Market Basket, one of the chain’s largest stores, read, “WE SUPPORT ARTHUR T. DEMOULAS.”

Inside, a stretch of shelving that normally contains fruits and vegetables was completely barren, and supplies of some other goods were also dwindling.

However, the store was immaculately clean and seemed fully staffed, with cashiers at every register and workers in the aisles restocking the items still in supply.

“We’re here to run the stores,” said Jamie Cunneen, a 25-year employee and the Chelsea store’s assistant director. “Everybody’s doing the best they can.”

Cunneen said he and most other employees were united in their desire to see Arthur T. Demoulas reinstated.

“He’s the only boss I’ve ever known,” he said. “He’s a gentleman, he’s a human being, he’s part of your family. That’s what he makes you feel like... It’s like losing a family member.”

As Cunneen talked to a reporter, an agitated customer approached and asked for a phone number where she could reach Market Basket’s corporate board to complain about Demoulas’s firing. Cunneen scribbled the number on a scrap of paper.

“See?” he said with a grin. “These are the people they should be listening to.”

As customers left the store, two employees were asking them to sign a petition demanding that Demoulas be reinstated.

“He’s been the good guy all along,” said a teenage cashier who was collecting signatures. “People keep coming up to my register and saying, ‘Oh my God, there’s no food, what happened?’ And I have to explain the whole thing to them.”

Customers at the store said they had heard about the feud in the news, but were still surprised by the empty shelves that greeted them Sunday.

“I love Market Basket, but this is terrible,” said Jennifer Mainwaring, 74, of Revere. “I wish the food would just come back, and they can puzzle out their domestic quarrel later.”

Other shoppers said they supported the protesting employees and Arthur T. Demoulas, but questioned the tactics of workers.

“Are they really helping Arthur? Because no one’s making a profit right now,” said Kara Wittens, a 51-year-old Boston resident, as she gestured at the empty shelves.

Wittens said she would stop making her weekly drive from Boston to the Chelsea store if it was not reliably well-stocked.

“Now I have to call up and ask, ‘do you have produce?’ before I get in the car,” she said. “Ultimately, people are going to say, ‘There’s no food, so I’m not going to shop there.’ And they might not come back at all.”

“One side is waiting for the other to blink,” she continued. “Who’s going to blink?”

The protesters planned to rally again Monday at a store in Tewksbury, when the company’s board of directors is scheduled to hold a phone meeting about employees’ demands.

Globe correspondent Claire McNeill contributed to this story. Erin Ailworth can be reached at erin.ailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth. Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielAdams86.
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